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George CostanzaBy Jimmy Fuchsman
George Louis Costanza is a fictional character on the show “Seinfeld” played by actor Jason Alexander. In the series, George is the best friend of the show’s main character Jerry Seinfeld. George and Jerry have been best friends since high school and now live in New York City where they live “normal” lives, yet always find themselves getting into some kinds of shenanigans. George is the son of Frank and Estelle Costanza, who are shown constantly yelling and bickering at everyone they come in contact with. George has a tenuous relationship with his parents and always feels as if they are controlling him in one way or another. In fact, George’s parents have such an effect on George that Jerry once said, “it’s too bad his parents didn’t [get a divorce]. [George] could have been normal.” The effect of George’s parents on him is exacerbated by the fact that he is often forced to live with them whenever he is without a job. Costanza jumps from job to job throughout the series, working in many different fields, varying from real estate to screenwriting to hand modeling and even a job with the New York Yankees’ front office. Despite finding various jobs, however, most of them are short-lived as George always manages to get himself fired. Two notable ways in which George has lost jobs are by drugging his boss for revenge and having sex with the cleaning lady on his desk at work.
George has always been a neurotic, impulsive, penny-pinching, and lazy individual who wanders through life trying to find an easy way to “beat the system”. He often gets himself into trouble by trying to avoid anything he perceives as difficult or unpleasant, only to have it blow up in his face. An example of this occurs when Jerry says to George that they should both grow up. Taking this message to heart, George impulsively visits one of his ex-girlfriends, Susan Ross, and proposes to her. Soon after she agrees to get married, however, George regrets the decision. While he wants to call the wedding off, he doesn’t want the uncomfortable task of initiating a break-up with Susan. He tries to make it clear to Susan that he doesn’t want to get married in backhand ways such as postponing the wedding, but she never comprehends George’s intent. George – who would rather spend the rest of his life unhappy with his marriage rather than simply breaking up with Susan before the wedding – was even described as having “restrained jubilation” after Susan passed away due to his purchase of cheap, toxic envelopes for their wedding invitations. George was happy because even though his fiancé had died, he got out of a relationship that he did not want guilt-free. It is events like this that make George Costanza the man he is.
Perspective 1: Neo-Analytic Approach
The Neo-Analytic approach to personality is based off of Freud’s psychoanalysis. While both approaches contain individuals possessing “internal drives”, the Neo-Analytic approach focuses more on social interactions. Alfred Alder believed that much of the personality is based upon early childhood recollections and some kind of “organ inferiority”. George Costanza’s odd behavior can be better understood using Alder’s theories.
Frank and Estelle Costanza were loud, obnoxious, and brash individuals. Jerry’s mother, Helen Seinfeld, compares being with George’s parents to “being in an Asylum… They’re so loud, they’re always fighting; it’s uncomfortable.” Growing up in such an environment must have had quite an effect of George. George, like his parents, can be quite loud and impulsive. However, George also goes to great lengths to avoid “uncomfortable” situations that he experienced often as a child. There are many examples of this throughout the series: he won’t break-up with women who he no longer has feelings for, for fear of the discomfort, if he thinks a woman is going to break-up with him he performs a “preemptive break-up” so that he doesn’t get hurt and have the feelings of inadequacy, and he’ll often quit jobs for simple reasons in order to live an “easy” life in which he always gets his way (George once quit a job because his boss wouldn’t allow him to use his private bathroom.)
George’s parents also never seemed to be fully happy with him. At one point during the series, George’s mother asks him, “Why can’t you be more like Lloyd Braun?” (George’s childhood neighbor who works for Mayor Dinkins.) Due to his parents’ dissatisfaction with him, George often pretends he has a better job (usually pretends to be an architect, though he has also played a marine biologist and an “importer/exporter”) and have more money than he actually does when meeting new people in order for them to think more highly of him.
Alfred Alder’s idea of “organ inferiority” also has a large effect on George. As a short, bald, and stocky man, George tends to have low self-esteem (he called himself “the lord of the idiots”), and think very poorly about himself, especially about his chances with women (he once said, “You know, I've been thinking. I cannot envision any circumstance in which I'll ever have the opportunity to have sex again. How's it gonna happen? I just don't see how it could occur.”) George has an inferiority complex that causes his feelings of incompetence. However, despite this, George also has a bit of a Napoleon Complex displayed through an aggression drive. This is shown throughout the series as George always tries to one-up any person he sees as competition. In one instance, George is going for the same parking spot as someone else, and instead of settling the manner in a “normal” fashion, George refuses to leave the parking space and claims he will stay there for as long as necessary to secure the spot. This is an instance in which George’s psyche tries to compensate for his physical deficiencies.
Perspective 2: Trait and Skill Approach (The Big Five)
The Big Five approach to personality uses five factors, found through research data, to predict an individual’s behavior. The five factors are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Every individual falls somewhere on a “scale” for each of these categories. To measure George for each of the categories, I will give him a score between one and ten.
George tends to be more of an introvert than an extrovert. Though he is friendly with Elaine Benes and Cosmo Cramer, Jerry is George’s only real friend. On top of that, George doesn’t really seek out new friends and tends to try to blend in rather than stick out at events with large people. Though he can be quite sociable in the right setting, George generally does not enjoy the presence of other people. Extroversion Score: 3/10.
On the scale of agreeableness, George is very low. He is very selfish, often finds himself getting into confrontations, lies about nearly everything, and has very few friends. The only person he ever fully “gets along” with on the show is Jerry. With nearly everyone else, George finds himself in some kind of disagreement. Agreeableness Score: 1/10.
Having spent most of his life aimlessly wandering from job to job and spending more time finding loopholes than actually doing work, George is very low on conscientiousness. In fact, he is often compared to the unsuccessful Biff Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on many occasions in the series. The only factor keeping George from the lowest possible score on conscientiousness is how much effort he actually puts into his various plotting. Conscientiousness Score: 2/10.
If George Costanza is defined by one individual character trait, it is neuroticism. He constantly feels vulnerable and believes that people are out to get him. Additionally, he is very insecure and hostile towards nearly everyone he encounters. George Costanza is the definition of neuroticism. Neuroticism Score: 10/10.
George tends to be very open person. He is very creative and appreciates the “art” in many social situations. His creativity mostly comes from scheming on how to avoid awkward social situation, but considering how much of his life he dedicates to such activities, George is very high on the openness scale. Though he is not necessarily socially intelligent, George is relatively smart and holds his own beliefs on many subjects that differ from the “norm”. The only reason George is not higher on this scale is because he often feels the need to fit the customs of society in order to fit in. Openness Score: 8/10.
While he certainly lives a humorous and entertaining life, George Costanza is not exactly someone who people strive to become. If you do not know him well, George is a very unlikable person who often finds himself in confrontations about simple things (such as “double-dipping” a chip and arguing over the correct answers to Trivial Pursuit). While George feels that there is a set system to the way the world work, he feels as though he gets the short end of the stick and thus doesn’t want to be involved with “traditional” system. He wants to do everything on his own terms, often times disregarding others’ rights or feelings. When it comes down to it, George just wants to enjoy his life and be accepted, but doesn’t know how to achieve these goals. While no one wants to live the life George does, many relate with George’s goals of happiness and acceptance. It is for this reason that George Costanza is such a popular character. He is on countless “Best Television Character” lists and continues to be a pop-culture reference. It is all his notable qualities listed above, combined with his witty charm and entertaining lifestyle that makes George Costanza such a lovable and unique personality.
Seinfeld, J. (Writer) (1990-1998). In David, L. (Executive Producer), Seinfeld. New York: NBC.
IMDB. (n.d.). Memorable quotes for "seinfeld". Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098904/quotes